Back-Seat Driver

Sacramento State parking is as bad as ever. Here’s what the school is doing about it.

One way for pedestrians and cyclists to get to Sacramento State University is via the Guy West Bridge from Campus Commons.
One way for pedestrians and cyclists to get to Sacramento State University is via the Guy West Bridge from Campus Commons. Ed Andersen

The start of the school year can be hectic. At Sacramento State though, a predominantly commuter school, the problem starts long before students get to class.

Parking spots on campus are fewer this fall because of construction on what used to be parking lots. At the same time, the student population has hit an all-time high of 30,850.

The result: a fresh round of complaints from students as well as from some nearby residents annoyed by students parking on neighborhood streets.

On the online Reddit Sacramento forum, the situation has prompted debate and reminiscences from more than a few former students.

“I graduated in ’03, parking sucked then too!” one wrote.

Hey, it goes further back than that. I took classes there in 1985, and remember calculating an extra 15 minutes into my drive to make sure I’d find a spot and get to class on time.

Sacramento was building a light-rail line at about that time, and considered bringing it onto campus. But school officials were against it. They thought it would bring “an undesirable element to campus,” according to a university memo from back then.

Since then, campus parking areas have spread lava-like across the landscape. This semester, officials expanded an off-campus parking lot on the other side of Highway 50 near Ramona Avenue, creating space for 1,000 cars. It’s so far from campus they had to hire Sacramento Regional Transit to shuttle students to school every 15 minutes on buses.

Tony Lucas, the campus transportation and parking chief, also signed a deal with owners of the nearby McAuliffe baseball complex to use their parking lot, and he had crews smooth out a narrow dirt patch near Folsom Boulevard to squeeze in a few more cars.

The parking crunch is about to improve, though. It will get a bit better this month when the class add/drop deadline passes, and will ease even more in the spring when fewer students are enrolled. By then, a new 1,750-space garage on campus should be finished.

To make things a bit easier for students and staff, campus officials now offer an online app that shows parking availability in real time for lots and garages, via color-coding: green, yellow and red. That should reduce time spent circling around looking for a spot, Lucas said.

Lucas has a bigger goal in mind. Sacramento State is going to be a commuter college for the foreseeable future. But he wants to reduce the number of students who make that commute in a car alone. “That is not a sustainable model,” Lucas says.

He said the campus hopes to have a ride-sharing program up and running this semester in partnership with the Zimride company, which is active on other campuses. The school, which until recently was bike-unfriendly, has been taking steps to make it easier to pedal around campus, adding green bike lanes and expanding bike parking.

The school also has expanded shuttle bus hours to 10:30 p.m. for the shuttle between campus and the 65th Street light rail station. That station, the closest to campus, is nearly a mile from the University Union via the Hornet Crossing tunnel shortcut. Student bus and rail fares are covered by the school fees they pay.

It doesn’t erase the bad decision made 30 years ago. But it reflects positive culture change.

“We love our partners at light rail,” Lucas said. “It’s too bad we don’t have it on campus. But we’ve done some things to make it seem closer.”

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak